How Cities Lost Control of the Urban Tech Revolution

Local governments have found themselves increasingly struggling to manage the changes that alter the many aspects of urban life. For many years we have been promised that the marriage of technology and the city, the “smart city,” would revolutionize urban life. Major technology purveyors who hoped to sell enterprise-level solutions for things like managing water and sewer systems or automating transit operations backed the first major wave of smart cities.

This generation of smart cities was the product of companies that had a long history of focusing on client needs. But it turned out that there weren’t that many cities willing or able to purchase this kind of very expensive solution.

A second generation of American smart cities came in the form of the open-data movement. Governments at all levels decided to post their data online or even make it available in real time through application program interfaces allowing the public, software developers and others to use it for their own purposes. This form of smart cities had an immediate win with the advent of transit tracker apps that allowed people to know when the next bus would arrive. The downside of this advance was data that was poorly organized.

A third generation of American smart cities came in the form of the open-data movement. Governments at all levels decided to post their data online or even make it available in real time through application program interfaces allowing the public, software developers and others to use it for their own purposes.

A new generation of smart cities is using technology from the private sector that interfaces directly with the citizenry, bypassing the normal regulatory processes. The best known are Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb that have allowed the smartphone to become the way people interface with the city beyond the regulated sector. In these cases, the private sector is setting the costs and terms without involvement of governments.

The smart city revolution has arrived but it is controlled by the private sector, leaving government out of control of the urban tech revolution.

Summarized from governing.com

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